There were flames flickering between us, climbing up from a backyard fire that seemed the perfect companion to this winter night that none of us saw coming. We had already hugged earlier, hanging on for a bit, as Ron and Jason looked on.
It was a moment. We all knew it.
Me meeting Amee, the woman I’d known my entire adult life in spirit, had only connected with in the months before because of a shared abusive experience, but had never actually met. In person.
I think the hug lasted five minutes. Or so. It had a lot in it. For both of us.
We were both always told, by the same abuser, that we were the reason. And we weren’t. And with each passing minute of knowing each other, bonding over shared experiences and learning from the people we’ve become, those emotional firebombs he lobbed over the course of two decades became neutralized.
The threat increasingly diminished, already weakened by the women we had become, but still dividing itself again and again thanks to the bond we’ve formed. And what a bond it is.
It’s one that extends beyond just us in one of the most powerful ways. It extends to our kids.
I can only speak for me, knowing my kids experienced emotional manipulation and strategic interference as often as he could find ways to insert it. I can only imagine what they were told or heard about me to make them believe he was some kind of victim as I kept quiet about the abuse I overcame to get out from under him.
And then they meet Amee, not long after he was arrested for DUI with them in the backseat. We were registered for a Spartan Race, the four of us, on a weekend I hadn’t planned to have the kids.
But, DUI. So, kids. And the kids couldn’t not compete in Spartan. So that’s the day the universe chose for them to meet.
And they adore her, like honestly can’t get enough of her. I remember my oldest asking immediately after the race if Amee and Jason could come over for dinner that night — all of us caked in mud.
I told her we’d be seeing a lot of her, and him. So, no rush.
And that day they had to know exactly who she is, her connection to me and her connection to their dad. And they see, through knowing her over this time and watching us and seeing our honest, real beings, that neither of us were the problem.
They needed to feel that. On their own. And they do. So, I thank the universe.
We’ve all been hiking, shared dinners and swim dates, gone camping and devoured pizzas. We’re all this new family now. And if I stop to think about how it all came together, or if I try to explain it, concisely, to other people — I know I can’t explain how the world works.
Is this karma? Is this what it is, coming our way after we struggled for so long? I think of karma as the universe’s scorecard. So, maybe.
Until now, we’ve been a bit cagey about how close we’ve become. Only our closest people know, as we continue to navigate a minefield that seems to repopulate every few weeks or months, depending on how lucky we get with his hiatus from harassment.
But cagey isn’t my favorite. And we have nothing to hide. I realized that last month, after we all returned from an incredible camping trip — off the grid, on a cliff, seven kids, two dogs and these four grown-ups connected by a universe that knew what it was doing.
“Who’d you go with?”
That’s what he asked the kids during one of his weekly calls after we returned. But, he knew. Because he digs.
The kids threw up an instant wall. “Friends,” they said, as I checked the temperature of the conversation from the kitchen.
“Oh yeah? Like who?”
I knew where he was going. So did the kids, immediately. They offered Jason, and his daughter, and it wasn’t enough for him, as he spit out Jason’s last name — which he could have only known from social media stalking.
When we were married, he had forbidden me from being friends with Jason, even though we worked together.
“And Jason’s girlfriend, right? You went with his girlfriend, yeah?”
I was beyond Mama Bear mode by then, so I’m not sure of how they responded, but I do know they never gave Amee up — by name. They knew what he was getting at, and they knew he was pressing about her daughter, and they stood (or actually sat) stoic, unshaken and unwilling to surrender any additional information.
If goosebumps could form on the walls, our living room would have been covered with them after that call. The air was creepy. You could feel it.
They could feel it.
And that’s one more unexpected light that came from all the dark. Me and Amee have seen and experienced things that truly and intentionally fucked with our heads, for a long time. And we can compare notes now.
There is a common denominator in the carnage Amee and I have climbed over to reach a new summit — and it’s not us. It’s him, a person who had carried on that behavior to other relationships since.
But we do have a common bond. Or an uncommon one, I guess? Because who shares this? On the surface, you almost need a flow chart, but all the arrows would point to one person.
I’m just eternally grateful that our arrows, the ones for Amee and I, are now pointing in the opposite direction — away from that one person.
*This is the end of this four-part series. But it is not the end of the all the light that can come from the dark. There is more, more light that can only come from darkness. It just takes a minute. So sit tight and thanks for taking this journey with me.